26 Readings in Public Health Law
Each week for 26 weeks in 2004-2005, The CDC Public Health Law News presented installments of a feature entitled 26 Readings in Public Health Law. In each issue, we posted a short introductory description and a link to selected readings in public health law, including cases, law review articles, book chapters, and other materials. The readings were designed to provide a foundation for understanding public health law.
"Epilogue: "Redefining Public Health," a speech by William H. Foege, MD, MPH"
Dr. Foege is a Fellow at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the former Director of CDC (1977-1983). He delivered this speech on June 16, 2004 at the Third Annual Partnership Conference on Public Health Law in Atlanta (for the proceedings of the conference, see The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Special Supplement to Volume 32:4, Winter 2004). The speech inaugurated the annual Gene Matthews Lecture in Public Health Law. Dr. Foege focused his remarks on the evolution of public health and the role of law.
To read "Redefining Public Health", please visit: /phlp/docs/redefining.pdf.
"Reading No. 26: Revision of the World Health Organization's International Health Regulations, by David P. Fidler"
Published in the April 2004 edition of ASIL Insights, an online newsletter of the American Society of International Law. We conclude our series with a reading in international law. The author is Professor of Law and the Ira C. Batman Faculty Fellow, Indiana University School of Law, and Senior Faculty, Center for the Law and the Public's Health, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins Universities. In this short essay, Fidler describes the current effort to revise the International Health Regulations. In the 1990s, international health experts became increasingly concerned about emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases and realized that the existing IHR no longer provided an adequate international legal framework to deal with mounting microbial threats. The new IHR, currently in draft, departs radically with the traditional approach taken by the current regulations.
To read Revision of the World Health Organization's International Health Regulations, please visit: /phlp/docs/ASIL_insights.pdf.
"Reading No. 25: Illinois House Bill 5164 (2004)"
This week, we conclude our short series of readings on legal preparedness for public health emergencies. In last week's issue, we presented the Draft Model State Emergency Health Powers Act, a model law created in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001. This week, we offer a real piece of legislation from Illinois, House Bill 5164. H.B. 5164 was sponsored by State Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) and Senator Barack Obama (D-Chicago). Governor Rod R. Blagojevich signed the bill into law on July 28, 2004 as Illinois Public Act 93-829. The new law expanded the power of the Illinois state government to respond to public health crises. Specifically, the bill authorized the state to: order isolation or quarantine, or close facilities, without an advance court order if the action is required to protect the public; have emergency access to medical records; expand the authority of licensed professions to provide medical services during declared disasters; share information among public health and law enforcement authorities; and several other provisions. The legislation included due process protections, such the right to notice, the right to counsel, and an explicit right to refuse certain examinations, testing or treatments.
To read House Bill 5164, please visit: /phlp/docs/HB5164.pdf.
"Reading No. 24: The Draft Model State Emergency Health Powers Act (December 21, 2001)"
The Draft Model State Emergency Health Powers Act (December 21, 2001). This week, we offer a second reading on legal preparedness for public health emergencies. In the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, CDC requested the Center for Law and the Public's Health at Georgetown University and the Johns Hopkins University to draft a model act of state legal powers for public health emergencies. The final version of the Draft Model Act was completed in December 2001, after consultation with national organizations representing governors, legislators, attorneys general, and public health officials. According to the authors, 33 states have passed bills or resolutions that include provisions from, or closely related to, the Draft Model Act. The Act has also drawn criticism (for an example, see Annas GJ. Bioterrorism, public health, and civil liberties. New England Journal of Medicine 2002;346:1337-1342). For more on the rationale behind the Act, see Gostin LO, et al. The Model State Emergency Health Powers Act: Planning for and response to bioterrorism and naturally occurring infectious diseases, Journal of the AMA 2002;288:622-628. Additional information on the Act is available at http://www.publichealthlaw.net/.
To read "The Draft Model State Emergency Health Powers Act", please visit: /phlp/docs/model_emergency.pdf.
"Reading No. 23: Chapter 10: "Legal Authorities for Interventions During Public Health Emergencies""
This week, we begin a short series of three readings dealing with legal preparedness for public health emergencies, whether man-made (terrorism) or natural (epidemics and natural disasters). The events of September 11, 2001, and subsequent threats (the anthrax incident, SARS, West Nile virus, monkeypox, and others) triggered a re-examination of the authorities and responsibilities of government and private interests during serious emergencies. In the past three years, emergency legal preparedness has become a major focus within the discipline. The first reading introduces the subject with a general discussion written in 2003 by two attorneys at CDC (Misrahi and Matthews) and a former state epidemiologist (Hoffman). The reading, "Chapter 10, Legal Authorities for Interventions During Public Health Emergencies," comes from the book, Law in Public Health Practice (2003), edited by Richard A. Goodman, Mark A. Rothstein and others. It is posted on our web site with permission of the publisher, Oxford University Press.
To read "Chapter 10, Legal Authorities for Interventions During Public Health Emergencies" please visit: /phlp/docs/LegalAuthorities.pdf.
"Reading No. 22: Louisiana v. Gamberella (1993)"
For this week's reading, we consider the use of criminal law as a tool for public health. The advent of the HIV/AIDS epidemic led to many prosecutions of persons accused of transmitting HIV intentionally or recklessly, or without disclosing their HIV infections to sexual partners. This week's reading, Louisiana v. Gamberella (1993) involves one such case.
Prosecutors have used two types of criminal law in these cases: common law crimes and specific statutes. The use of common law crimes for prosecutions such as attempted murder, assault, aggravated assault, and reckless endangerment can be difficult in these cases because of the need to prove a culpable state of mind on the part of the accused -- either intent or willful disregard of risk. Many states have turned to HIV-specific statutes, because they require for prosecution only the defendant's knowledge of the HIV infection, plus proof of the prohibited act. For a discussion of these laws and their utility, see "Criminal Law and Public Health Practice," by Lazzarini, Scott, and Buehler, in Law in Public Health Practice (Oxford, 2003), edited by Richard A. Goodman et al.
In Gamberella, a man stood accused of two counts of intentionally exposing another to HIV, violations of a Louisiana HIV-specific statute. Gamberella appealed his conviction, claiming several errors by the trial court involving admission of evidence, the constitutionality of the HIV-specific statute, sentencing, and bail.
To read Louisiana v. Gamberella, please visit: /phlp/docs/Gamberella.pdf.
"Reading No. 21: Food and Drug Administration v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. (2000)
This week, we again look at efforts to use the law to prevent non-infectious diseases -- in this case, tobacco-related illnesses. In this week's reading, Food and Drug Administration v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., the federal government challenged a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which held that Congress had not granted the FDA jurisdiction to regulate tobacco products. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the lower court ruling, stating that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C.S. 301 et seq.) clearly showed that Congress intended to exclude tobacco products from FDA's jurisdiction. FDA's jurisdiction over tobacco products continues to be a contentious issue, as evidenced by several attempts to attach such a provision to Congress' tobacco quota buyout plan in 2004.
To read Food and Drug Administration v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., please visit: /phlp/docs/FDAvBrown.pdf.
"Reading No. 20: Queenside Hills Realty Co., Inc. v. Saxl"
This week, we turn to a few cases on the law of preventing two non-infectious diseases, injuries and tobacco-related illnesses. Injuries are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States, ranking third among all causes of death. The prevention of injuries is heavily dependent upon law. To grasp the importance of law in this area, one need only consider the beneficial effect of mandatory safety belts on morbidity and mortality attributed to motor vehicle crashes. Many other examples exist, ranging from firearm laws to bicycle helmets to fire safety codes. In this week's reading, Queenside Hills Realty Co. v. Saxl, the owner of a lodging house objected to a 1944 New York law that forced it to retrofit its building with an automatic sprinkler system. The company's most cogent argument was that the 1944 law denied it equal protection of the laws, a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
To read Queenside Hills Realty Co., Inc. v. Saxl, please visit: /phlp/docs/QueensidevSaxl.pdf.
"Reading No. 19: McCarthy v. Boozman (2002)"
This week we offer the second of two readings on the subject of religious exemptions to school entry immunization requirements. In last week's reading, a 1979 case called Brown v. Stone, the Mississippi Supreme Court invalidated the state's religious exemption, in part because upholding the exemption would subject vaccinated children, whose parents have no religious objections to vaccination, to discrimination. In this week's case, McCarthy v. Boozman, a father sued the Arkansas director of public health and a local school district after his 11-year-old daughter was excluded from school because she did not have the age-appropriate vaccinations required for school entry under Arkansas law. Like the plaintiff in last week's case, the father objected to the vaccinations on religious grounds but was not a member of a "recognized church or religious denomination" as required by the state's religious exemption. The Court upheld Arkansas' school entry law, but invalidated the religious exemption on grounds it violated the "Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because the exemption benefits only those who are members or adherents of a church or religious denomination recognized by the State."
Click here for reading 19: McCarthy v. Boozman.
"Reading No. 18: Brown v. Stone (1979)"
This week we begin two readings in the law of immunization. Both readings deal with the sometimes-controversial topic of religious exemptions to school entry immunization requirements. In this week's case from 1979, Brown v. Stone, a child had been excluded from school because his father objected to vaccination on religious grounds. The father, however, was not a "bona fide member of a recognized religious organization," as required by the statutory religious exemption to the school entry law. The father sued the child's school district in Mississippi, asserting that the school entry law was a violation of his rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In next week's reading, a federal court addressed a similar question, with somewhat different results.
To read Brown v. Stone, click here: /phlp/docs/Brownvstone.pdf.
"Reading No. 17: New York v. New St. Mark's Baths (1986)"
For this week's reading, we return to our short series of cases on private property and public necessity. In this week's case, New York v. New St. Mark's Baths, public health officials used nuisance laws to address a serious health threat in the city, the spread of AIDS. In the mid-1980s, AIDS was in its ascendancy in New York City, especially in the male gay population. The City determined that certain gay bathhouses were a potential source of infection, because of rampant high-risk sex being practiced by patrons there. The City decided to close the bathhouses.
Nuisance laws allow public authorities to abate essentially anything that may be injurious to the health of the public, including dangerous activities, goods, and premises. Nuisance laws have been used by public health authorities to address hazardous waste, unsanitary conditions or facilities, and, as the case here, premises that may present a risk to the public.
Members of the gay community appealed the City's action, arguing that the closures violated their constitutional rights to privacy and association. The Supreme Court of New York, however, soundly rejected that argument and upheld the closings. As the Court said, "A tangential impact upon association or expression is insufficient to obstruct the exercise of the State's police power to protect public health and safety."
To read New York v. New St. Mark's Baths, please visit: /phlp/docs/StMarksBaths.pdf.
"Reading No. 16: "The Path of the Law," by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1897)"
For this week's reading, we take a diversion into legal theory. "The Path of the Law," by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was published in the Harvard Law Review in 1897. It remains one of the most lucid explanations ever written of what the law is.
Holmes was born in 1841 in Boston. His father was the famous writer and physician. Early in his career, Holmes taught at the Harvard Law School and became a well-known thinker and writer on legal subjects. He was appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 1899. In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he had a profound influence on American legal thought for over 30 years.
In "The Path of the Law," Holmes explains his theory of the law. The law, he says, is nothing more than "[t]he prophecies of what the courts will do in fact, and nothing more pretentious." Furthermore, "a legal duty so called is nothing but a prediction that if a man does or omits certain things he will be made to suffer in this or that way by judgment of the court..." Holmes goes on to describe the confusion between law and morality, and the fallacy, as he calls it, that the only force at work in the development of the law is logic. Experience and tradition, he argues, play major roles. Holmes then discusses the state of legal study in his time.
Holmes' essay gives a fascinating perspective on the theory of law. Happily, it is written in a conversational style that can be easily understood by both lawyers and non-lawyers.
Click here to read the essay: The Path of the Law
"Reading No. 15: Camara v. Municipal Court (1967)"
This week we continue a short series of cases on public health necessity and private property. Inspections of goods and facilities are an important part of public health practice. Consider, for example, the restaurant inspections conducted by local and state health departments, and the food, drug, and device inspections conducted daily by FDA. In this week's case, a man refused to allow city housing inspectors access to his apartment without a search warrant. He was charged with a criminal violation, but appealed on grounds that the law permitting warrantless inspections was contrary to the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. As framed by the Camara Court, "The Fourth Amendment provides that, 'The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.' The basic purpose of this Amendment, as recognized in countless decisions of this Court, is to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by governmental officials. The Fourth Amendment thus gives concrete expression to a right of the people which is basic to a free society."
In Camara, the Court found that, in general, warrantless searches are "unreasonable" under the Fourth Amendment and are therefore contrary to the Constitution, with certain carefully defined exceptions.
To read Camara v. Municipal Court, please visit: /phlp/docs/Camara.pdf.
"Reading No. 14: Altman v. City of High Point (2003)"
This week we begin a short series of cases regarding public health necessity and private property. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." This week's reading is a 2003 case, Altman v. City of High Point, from the Fourth Circuit federal court of appeals. The case involves the destruction of some privately owned dogs by animal control officers in High Point, North Carolina. According to the officers, the dogs were running free in the streets and causing a danger to the public. The plaintiffs in the case were owners of the dogs who claimed, among other things, that the officers' actions violated their Fourth Amendment rights. The Court had to determine first whether dogs were "effects" under the Constitutional prohibition. Then, it had to decide whether the dogs were "seized" in a way that violated the Constitution and entitled the plaintiffs to relief. The case was brought under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, a provision of federal law that allows individuals to recover damages from the government when their civil rights have been violated. We have excerpted the relevant parts of the opinion.
To read the excerpt of Altman v. City of High Point , please visit: /phlp/docs/Altman.pdf.
"Reading No. 13: Jew Ho v. Williamson (1900)"
This week we present another in a short series of readings on restriction of personal freedom for public health purposes. In this weeks classic case, Jew Ho v. Williamson, city officials had imposed quarantine on a 12-block area of Chinatown in San Francisco, purportedly to control an outbreak of bubonic plague. Unlike the two cases on personal restriction we presented earlier, in Jew Ho the court invalidated the restriction. The case is an example of how public health regulation, improperly applied, can run a foul of the U.S. Constitution. It also provides a glimpse of the reasoning used by judges when they evaluate the constitutionality of public health laws.
To read Jew Ho v. Williamson, please visit: /phlp/docs/Jew_Ho.pdf.
"Reading No. 12: In re Halko (1966)"
This week we continue a short series of readings on the state's power to restrict persons who pose a risk to the public health. Last week's case, People v. Strautz (1944), involved two persons accused of prostitution who were held by the state in order to test them for sexually transmitted diseases, in accordance with Illinois statute. This week, we offer a similar case, In re Halko, a 1966 case from California. In Halko, a person with contagious pulmonary tuberculosis contested an isolation order from a California health officer. Like Strautz, the Halko case was a decision on a petition for habeas corpus (see last week's reading for an explanation of habeas corpus).
To read In re Halko, please visit: /phlp/docs/Halko.pdf.
"Reading No. 11: People v. Strautz"
This week we begin a short series of readings on the power of government to restrict the freedom of persons who pose a risk to the health of the public. This is a traditional public health power and it remains crucially important. Even in the modern era, long after the advent of antibiotics and vaccines, there remain situations in which the state must invoke quarantine or other restrictions to control the spread of disease (for a very recent report on the use of quarantine to control the spread of measles in Iowa, see http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5341a3.htm). In Strautz, a case from the World War II era in Illinois, two people accused of prostitution were ordered held at a clinic in order to be examined and treated for venereal disease, as required under Illinois law. The two refused to undergo the tests and filed petitions for writs of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus ("you have the body") refers to the constitutionally guaranteed right to petition a court for release from illegal confinement by the state. The U.S. Supreme Court has called habeas corpus "the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action." Harris v. Nelson, 394 U.S. 286 (1969). In Strautz, the Illinois Supreme Court had to decide whether to grant the prisoners' petition for habeas corpus, and whether the statute enabling the detention was constitutionally valid. Again, as in previous readings, the nature of the state's police power is at the center of the case.
To read People v. Strautz, please see: /phlp/docs/Strautz.pdf
"Reading No. 10: Benning v. State of Vermont, 161 Vt. 472; 641 A.2d 757 (1994)"
In this week's reading, we continue a bedrock theme in public health law, the tension between the rights of individuals and the power of government to take action necessary for the common good. This week's case was an attack on the Vermont motorcycle helmet law. The plaintiff, Benning, argued that he, not the Vermont state government, should have the power to decide what is necessary for his own personal safety. His arguments were conceptually similar to those presented by Hartog in last week's case, State of Iowa v. Hartog.
To read Benning v. State of Vermont, please visit /phlp/docs/Benning.pdf
"Reading No. 9: State of Iowa v. Hartog, 440 N.W.2d 852 (1989)"
In previous readings, we acquainted readers with the individual rights guaranteed to individuals under the U.S. Constitution (Reading Number One) and state constitutions (Reading Number Eight). In the classical case, Jacobson v. Massachusetts (Reading Number Two), we introduced one of the essential tensions in public health law, the tension between the public good and private rights. As Professor Gostin has written, "... in thinking about public health regulation, we have to take a hard look at the trade-offs -- between the common welfare, on the one hand, and the personal burdens and economic interests of individuals and businesses, on the other." Lawrence O. Gostin, Public Health Law: Power, Duty, Restraint xx (2000). In this week's reading, State of Iowa v. Hartog (1989), the trade-off addressed by the Iowa Supreme Court was, on the one hand, Mr. Hartog's claimed right to decide for himself whether to wear a seatbelt while driving a car, and on the other hand, the police power of the State of Iowa.
To read State of Iowa v. Hartog, please visit: State of Iowa v. Hartog, 440 N.W.2d 852 (1989)
"Reading No. 8: Bill of Rights, New Hampshire Constitution"
Public health law is pervaded by tension between two deeply-held values in American law, the rights of individuals, and the power of the government to take action necessary for the common good. As stated in the Jacobson case (see Reading Number Two), "But the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restrain." As a prelude to a short series of weekly readings on this subject, we present the New Hampshire Constitution Bill of Rights, adopted largely in 1784, seven years before the adoption of the federal Bill of Rights (see Reading One). By presenting a state bill of rights, we call attention to the existence of individual constitutional rights at the state level.
To read "Bill of Rights, New Hampshire Constitution", please visit: http://www.state.nh.us/constitution/billofrights.html
"Reading No. 7: Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. Reilly"
For our seventh reading, we present an important case from the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Constitution commands that the laws of the United States, i.e. federal law, "shall be the supreme Law of the Land...." Thus, Congress has the right to preempt the laws of the states. Simple as this may sound to non-lawyers, the question of whether a federal law preempts a state law is often complex. As stated by Justice O'Connor for the Supreme Court in the Lorillard case, "State action may be foreclosed by express language in a congressional enactment, by implication from the depth and breadth of a congressional scheme that occupies the legislative field, or by implication because of a conflict with a congressional enactment." In this case, Massachusetts Attorney General Reilly promulgated state regulations that included restrictions on tobacco product advertising and sale. A group of tobacco companies and retailers sued, claiming that Reilly's regulations were preempted by an existing federal law, the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act (FCLAA). Among other things, the Supreme Court found that FCLAA did preempt the Massachusetts regulations covering outdoor and point-of-sale cigarette advertising. The Lorillard opinion is a good modern example of a federal preemption analysis. The tobacco companies also claimed that some of the regulations violated their right to free speech under the First Amendment, and the Court also ruled on that claim. Readers may wish to concentrate on the preemption part of the opinion, pages 540 to 553. The First Amendment analysis begins on page 553.
To read Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. Reilly, go to:
"Reading No. 6: Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 250, Health: Administration and Supervision"
For our sixth reading, we offer a state public health statute, Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 250. As we saw in Readings One, Three, and Four, the core legal authority for public health action rests on the police power reserved to the states by the U.S. Constitution. Each U.S. state has its own unique set of public health statutes, which give the state and local governments authority to exercise the day-to-day practice of public health. Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 250 is typical of these laws. Among other things, Chapter 250 sets up the main functions of the Wisconsin public health system and the duties and responsibilities of the state government regarding public health. Readers should also consider looking at the statutes that govern public health action in their own jurisdictions. For help in locating those statutes, consult your general counsel or other attorney.
To read Wisconsins Chapter 250, go to:
"Reading No. 5: Pelman v. McDonald's Corp., No. 02 Civ. 7821 (S.D.N.Y. 2003)"
This reading is a decision from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on a lawsuit brought by children who alleged that the fast food chain's business practices had a negative effect on their health, including an increased likelihood for the development of obesity. The Court dismissed the case. Obesity litigation is a new area in public health law. The fate of such cases has big implications for our society's approach to obesity as a public health problem. Pelman will give readers a sense of the technical legal issues involved in such cases, especially issues around causation and reliance.
To read Pelman v. McDonald's Corp., visit:
"Reading No. 4: Chapter 1: "The Law and the Public's Health: The Foundations"
This reading by Lawrence O. Gostin, Jeffrey P. Koplan, and Frank P. Grad, in Law in Public Health Practice (Oxford University Press 2003), edited by Richard A. Goodman, Mark A. Rothstein, Richard E. Hoffman, Wilfredo Lopez, and Gene W. Matthews provides a brief framework (19 pages) for understanding public health law, written by three scholars in the field.
This reading provides a brief framework (19 pages) for understanding public health law, written by three scholars in the field.
"Reading No. 3: Chapter One of " Public Health Law (3rd Edition) " (1947) by James A. Tobey"
This reading is from the great public health law treatise by James A. Tobey, published in 1947. As mentioned by Prof. Edward P. Richards, III, a law professor at Louisiana State University Law Center and the online source of today's reading, "Tobey's treatise was in the tradition of the health officer manuals that were at the core of the sanitation movement. These books combined legal information with practical information on public health practice and administration. As with Dr. Tobey, they were often written by authors with both legal and public health training."
To read Tobey's Chapter One, visit:
"Reading No. 2: Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905)"
The landmark public health case, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1905. In this case, the defendant, Jacobson, appealed a lower court decision upholding his violation of a Massachusetts statute empowering local health boards to require smallpox vaccination for all inhabitants, if necessary for the public health or safety. In February 1902, the Cambridge Board of Health adopted such a regulation and compelled vaccination of the city's inhabitants. When Mr. Jacobson refused - arguing that the statute violated due process and excessively restricted individual constitutional rights -- the Board of Health took legal action against him.
The Supreme Court's opinion in this case provided clarification about the states' police power and responsibilities for the control of infectious disease. Some commentators have characterized the Jacobson case as the beginning of the application of modern constitutional analysis to disease control law. The effects of this opinion have endured for nearly a century. Even today, the case represents principles such as the states' police power for public health and the delegation of certain authorities to local health agencies and other subdivisions of government.
To read Jacobson v. Massachusetts, visit:
"Reading No. 1: The United States Constitution"
The first reading in our new series is a much-discussed, but seldom-read, legal document, the United States Constitution. The Constitution outlines the foundation and structure of American government, including separation of powers, and delineates the individual rights of Americans.
Written in 1787, the Constitution is "the supreme law of the land." The document sets out the duties and powers of all three branches of government: Congress, (Article I), the President (Article II), and the Courts (Article III). The preamble does not outline specific powers for any branch of government, but it has been cited by courts finding the purpose and scope of the Constitution in such watershed public health law cases as Jacobson v. Massachusetts.
In 1791, the first ten amendments to the Constitution were adopted, known as the Bill of Rights. They provide protection for individual rights such as freedom of speech and the right to a jury trial. Initially, the Bill of Rights only restrained the actions of the federal government, but, eventually, it was made applicable to the states by way of the Fourteenth Amendment. There are now 27 amendments to the U.S. constitution.
The average reader can read the Constitution in less than one hour. Readers may want to pay special attention to Article I, on the powers of Congress, and Article III, on judicial powers. To read the Constitution, including both the articles and the amendments, visit: http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.overview.html.